The “CSI” Effect on the Psychology of Jurors : The Challenges that Pop Culture is Bringing to the Courtroom - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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The “CSI” Effect on the Psychology of Jurors : The Challenges that Pop Culture is Bringing to the Courtroom. James McGrath, JD, MPH Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. Forensic Science. The application of a broad range of sciences to answer legal questions

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The “CSI” Effect on the Psychology of Jurors : The Challenges that Pop Culture is Bringing to the Courtroom

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The “CSI” Effect on the Psychology of Jurors: The Challenges that Pop Culture is Bringing to the Courtroom

James McGrath, JD, MPH

Texas Wesleyan University School of Law

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Forensic Science

The application of a broad range of sciences to answer legal questions

Used for both criminal and civil cases

Dates back to Aristotle

Popularized with the DNA evidence in the OJ Simpson trial

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CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

One of the most watched shows in television history

Has several spin off shows all of which are usually in the top spot in their time slot

Different from other crime dramas such as Law and Order because it follows the story more through forensics than it follows people and the court proceedings

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CSI and the Courtroom

Experts have claimed an incidence of the “CSI Effect” in courtrooms

  • Trend in which TV shows increase the expectations of victims’ and jury members’ concerning forensic evidence and the level of crime scene investigation

  • Trials are being presented differently at trial

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CSI and the Courtroom

Also from the criminal’s perspective

Increase in crime scenes where the evidence has been tampered with or completely destroyed

  • Burning scenes

  • Using bleach

  • Vacuuming carpet and removing the vacuum cleaner

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CSI and the Courtroom

Criminal Perspective: Actual Case

Murder Case in Trumbull County, OH

Mother and daughter murdered


Used bleach to wash hands

Covered car interior with blankets preventing transfer

Burned bodies, clothes, and other potential evidence

Attempted to sink remaining evidence in a lake

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CSI and the Courtroom

Juror perspective

  • Expect to see solid physical evidence indicating the defendant

    • Likely to ignore circumstantial evidence

  • Always assume DNA evidence should be found at the scene

    • If physical evidence is found, it is now much less likely to be questioned by jurors

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CSI Effect - Many Definitions

The best-known definition states that CSI creates unreasonable expectations on the part of jurors, making it more difficult for prosecutors to obtain convictions.

The second definition, which runs contrary to the first, refers to the way that CSI raises the stature of scientific evidence to virtual infallibility, thus making scientific evidence impenetrable.

The final definition focuses on CSI's increasing lay interest in forensics and science. Thus, viewers who serve as jurors will be more interested in and able to follow scientific evidence. They may even become interested in academic training and careers in the forensics field.

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Baltimore Case

"I've seen a big change in jurors and what they expect over the last five years," defense attorney Joseph Levin of Atlantic City, N.J., told a local newspaper. "Jurors can ask questions of the judge while in deliberations, and they're asking about what they see as missing evidence. They want to know where the fingerprints are or the DNA. If it's not there, they want to know why."

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Robert Blake Case

Quote from juror “I would have liked more of the kind of evidence I have seen in the cases on ‘CSI’, I just expected more”

Jurors dismissed circumstantial evidence

More often than not, there is little physical evidence linking defendant directly to the crime

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Media Influence. Real?

Nation of Viewers


Views on Crime

“Reality” Court Shows

Cultivation Theory

Pretrial Publicity

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Forensic evidence

Typewriter stolen from frat house

Body found in culvert

Blood in car

Blood on hammer

Leopold’s glasses

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The confessions

After finding Leopold’s glasses, both boys are taken into custody.

They have alibis, but the alibis weaken and they tell the truth.

Both are arrested, plead “not guilty” and are to be tried together.

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Clarence Darrow

America’s best defense attorney

Well read, well liked

Very anti-death penalty

Darrow walked in and plead “guilty.”

The Alienists were called in to testify about their mental well being.

Darrow’s closing argument took 12 hours, and at the end the judge and 2 jury members were in tears

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They were sentenced to 99 years.

The were sent to the Joliet Penitentiary.

Their prison home was “countryclub-esque”

Loeb was murdered in the shower.

Leopold taught other inmates to read, sets up library, volunteers, etc. Released 30 years later.

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In a survey of the 500 people in the jury pool, the defense found that about 70% were viewers of CBS' CSI or similar shows such as Court TV's Forensic Files or NBC's Law & Order

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In Baltimore for example – less than 10% of homicide cases in the state attorney general’s office in 2004 involved fingerprint or DNA evidence. Evidence more likely to be circumstantial or reliant on eyewitnesses.

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  • Myth 1: Laboratory Personnel can examine evidence as soon as it gets to the lab

  • Usually takes months before time permits an examination of the evidence due to back logs and quality control procedures

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  • Myth 2: One person can examine all types of evidence

  • There are few ‘generalists’ in today’s forensics

  • The expertise required for each section of forensics sometimes requires one piece of evidence to be examined by more than one individual

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  • Myth 3: Fingerprints susceptible to testing and identification are always found

  • Finding identifiable fingerprints that can be collected and are of a high enough quality to do an automated search are rare

  • Normally fingerprint comparison must be done by ‘hand’

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  • Myth 4: Testing for drugs and chemicals in blood is quick and easy

  • Numerous drugs, botanicals, chemicals that can be presented at any given crime scene

  • Numerous instruments to identify these various compounds

  • Process often takes weeks or months to complete

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Myth 5: The cooperative crime scene

  • The ‘perfect’ evidence is rarely there

  • Technology has greatly improved evidence collection but no technological advancements can find nonexistent evidence

  • Time between occurrence and discovery of the crime is the biggest factor

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Myth 6: The fully equipped crime lab

  • TV forensic labs are always fully equipped with the most up to date technology

  • Even the labs with the largest budgets cannot afford to have the same lab quality as the labs on TV dramas

  • Shortages occur with building space, funds, equipment and proficient personnel

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Myth 7: Use and availability of some sensors

  • Some of the sensors used are actually prototypes still in the developmental stages and are not on the market yet

  • The accuracy and power of some sensors has been enhanced beyond what they are currently capable of detecting

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CSI Website

Acknowledges some errors . . .

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Good evening.  I'm sorry I don't know the name of the episode but it is the one where the paraglider falls to his death.  Anyway, on the part where Marg Helgenberger investigates the guy shot with the .50 cal gun.  When she approached the body she said the injury was through and through.  There is no way to know that without turning the body over.  Also, that entry wound was NOT that large.  By the way, I am a general surgeon and I have treated a lot of gunshot wounds.  Thank you and good night. Alan W, MD

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When Grissom mentions on one episode that "Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider back in the fifties" he was wrong. The first issue of any comic book to feature Spider-man was "Amazing Fantasy #15" which came out in 1963. Hayward Simpson.

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Another Effect:Increased Public Awareness of Forensics

Some people now look forward to jury duty

Better sense of investigations

Popularized investigatory science programs

Shifting demographics in forensics field

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Actual Studies

Two studies

Not terribly well designed (IMHO)

Do not show the complained of effect

If anything, point to the opposite effect

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Efforts to Minimize Potential Effects

In Arizona, Illinois and California, prosecutors now use "negative evidence witnesses" to try to assure jurors that it is not unusual for real crime-scene investigators to fail to find DNA, fingerprints and other evidence at crime scenes.

In Massachusetts, prosecutors have begun to ask judges for permission to question prospective jurors about their TV-watching habits. Several states already allow that.

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